FDA launches review on easing U.S. restrictions on marijuana

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. regulators are studying whether restrictions on marijuana should be eased, a step toward decriminalizing the drug at the federal level.

The Food and Drug Administration is conducting an analysis at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s request about whether the United States should downgrade the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, Douglas Throckmorton, the FDA‘‍s deputy director for regulatory programs, said at a congressional hearing.

Schedule 1 drugs carry the most restrictions of the five DEA classifications and are considered substances with no medical benefit that are highly addictive. Factors the FDA considers in making a recommendation include a drug’s abuse potential, its pharmacological effect and risk to public health, according to Mr. Throckmorton’s written testimony.

“This has big implications,” said Rep.John Mica, R-Fla., who is leading the oversight hearing on pot research as part of an examination of changing societal attitudes about the drug.

The FDA reviewed marijuana’s status for the DEA in 2001 and 2006 and recommended that it remain Schedule 1, Mr. Throckmorton said. The DEA has since been petitioned to change marijuana’s classification, and “that has been sent to us, and we’re in the process of conducting an eight-factor analysis,” Mr. Throckmorton told Mica.

Mr. Mica is chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s government operations panel. A change in schedule could help reconcile some of the differences between federal laws and looser state laws. Twenty-two states permit medical marijuana, and two, Washington and Colorado, allow recreational use.

The New York Senate passed a bill legalizing access to medical marijuana Friday, a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced agreement on a seven-year pilot program to provide the drug to sick New Yorkers. The bill passed 49-10. New York’‍s Assembly, where the majority Democrats had long supported the concept, had passed the bill during an overnight session. And Mr. Cuomo is expected to sign the bill soon. It would be effective immediately, though the bill’s regulations and implementation could take up to 18 months.

Mr. Throckmorton wouldn’t say when he expected the FDA to complete the analysis, or whether it would recommend a change. The agency must first consult with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and send its recommendation through the Department of Health and Human Services before handing it to the DEA, he said.

The New York Times contributed.


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